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I had been the assistant to the director for less than a year.

Why is "Had been" used here? Is it okay to use "Was" instead of "Had been"? Can anyone please explain?

  • I am assuming there is more context. There are likely other sentences you haven't provided that discuss an event in somebody's life. The person had been an assistant when something else happened. But because you haven't provided the additional context, it looks odd entirely on its own. – Jason Bassford Oct 6 '19 at 2:21
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There is a larger context, which we don't see here. In other words, something is missing. Let's say for example:

Where had you worked before you got this job and for how long? - I had been the assistant to the director for less than a year.

Now we have the whole context, and can easily understand why the present perfect is used in the answer. That's because there are 2 actions in the past. "Before you got this job" is the starting point of the story, and it's in the past simple. If we want to talk about things that happened before this time, we use the past perfect.

If there is no stating point in the past, we use "was." "I was the assistant" is a piece of information which means that "I am not the assistant anymore." By the way, if you are still the assistant, you need to say "I have been the assistant..."

So, both "I had been the assistant to the director for less than a year" and "I was the assistant to the director for less than a year" are correct, but they are for different situations.

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It could mean something different if you substituted the words "had been" for "was".

"Was" is Past Progressive Tense.

"Had been" is Past Perfect Progressive Tense.

So:

I was the assistant to the director for less than a year.

This would be what you might say after your appointment as assistant has ended and referring to your entire time in that position.

I had been the assistant to the director for less than a year.

This is what you might say when referring to a particular point in the past and the time you had spent in the position as assistant up to that time.

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